Thursday, July 21, 2016

Reluctant Swimmer

It started with a sketch...

She's one of many swimmers I've sketched lately, but I just loved her 'attitude,' so to speak.
So, out came the paper, Mod Podge, and paint, and I set to work bringing this little sketch to life.

 I spend a lot of time picking the right papers to use in my art. The paper combinations might look random and haphazard, which in some cases it is, but in most cases, there's a lot of thought as to which patterns and colors I'll use. For example, in a travel themed piece of art, I might layer my canvas with maps and old travel adds, or I might add recipe pages for a food themed painting. In all of my paintings and illustrations I try to use general, but bold patterns that have stark, contrasting colors to base my canvases because I know that once the paint is layered on, only hints of these patterns will sneak through, so the bolder the pattern, the more likely it won't be completely obscured.  Once the background is finished, I sketch out my subject and get to painting.

Then comes the fun part... dressing the subject.
 I generally have an idea for a color, or a particular look I'm going for, and I pick out a bunch of papers that I think might work. If I'm painting a bird it would be the feathers, or a robot, his metal casing, but in this case, it was this girl's swimwear. I thought I wanted a navy blue swimsuit, so I picked several papers that fit the bill, along with a few other colors with classic patterns. I held each paper up to the painting and tried to imagine the finished piece. Once I narrowed the papers down to a shortlist, I cut out the suit in each color, laid them out, and photographed them. The cutting was through trial and error. I started big, and trimmed it down to fit. If I'm illustrating a piece that requires more intricate scissor work, I'll have a detailed sketch and trace the images on my paper before making the cut, but I thought I could eyeball this one.

I had to call in the jury to help me decide the winning suit...

Then it was glued down, sealed and given some extra details before the I called this reluctant swimmer finished.


nessa dee

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Austin SCBWI Header

As part of the prize package for winning the Austin Writer's and Illustrators Working Conference portfolio showcase, I was given the opportunity to redesign the Austin SCBWI website header! It was a wonderful opportunity, and I'm beyond excited to see the header up. This was the final design:

To see the design on the Austin SCBWI website, click here.

A big thank you to Austin SCBWI for giving me this opportunity, and to Sam Clark and Amy Farrier for all of your help! And thanks again to Candlewick Art Director Kristen Nobles, and illustrator Molly Idle for awarding me with the grand prize. I'm still giddy from the conference!

nessa dee

Saturday, June 18, 2016


I love quilts. There's something so comforting and inviting about these hand-stitched blankets. It's not just their utilitarian purpose, to provide warmth, it's all of the love and care that goes into their creation. I have fond memories of watching my grandmother and great-grandmother putting hours and hours of labor into their quilts. My favorites were always the ones that were pieced out of the leftovers from previous quilts, or old shirts that found new life within the patched blanket. Those quilts often times had crazy color schemes which fantastically clashed, but that's what I loved about them. They were energetic and funky, and bright.  
Gangy (my grandmother) always kept a box full of scraps in her quilting studio for her grandkids. She taught her grandchildren how to thread a needle, piece the scraps, and hand stitch them together to create a quilt that I'm sure any tiny creature would have marveled at. I think about the patience she showed when teaching us each and every little step. I often think about those moments when I'm frustrated in teaching my own children tedious tasks. It takes a lot of patience to make a quilt. It takes a lot of patience to teach your children. And I'm not always the most patient person. Sometimes, like having to rip a seam and start over, I have to take pause, and start again with my children. But hopefully, with each little stitch sewn, each little patched seam, each little lesson taught, some crazy, beautiful, fantastically bright thing will emerge.

nessa dee

Monday, June 6, 2016

Revisions, Revisions, and More Revisions

I finally finished revisions on one of my picture books over the weekend. It's a simple story, wordless, yet full of surprises. It relies solely on the interaction between the two characters pictured above, and one object that ties them together in a unique way. The idea for the story came out of a conference workshop assignment to tell a sequential story in six or more images and attach them together, acpprdiban style. Once I started, I couldn't stop. I think I ended up with 20 images, and at the end of that breakout session, I was told that I should do something with the story. So I set to work, redesigning the characters and simplifying the entire look of the book.

When I first started attending SCBWI Conferences five years ago and heard writers and illustrators talk about revising their stories and pictures ten, twenty, thirty times, I was a bit overwhelmed by the thought of such a daunting task, especially having written stories and created illustrations which I loved. It's hard to want to change something you're so fond of, even harder when it took so much effort to finish it in the first place. Add to that a head full of stories and the time limits of being a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom, and having a finished dummy book meant I could jump into the next project.

Fast forward five years... to this project. It's a project I started over a year ago, not too long ago in the realms of publishing, but in that year, I've drawn and redrawn, and revised, and revised again, and again. I've redesigned the bear multiple times, which meant redrawing him on every page of the book. I've thumbnailed out this entire book, at least ten, maybe twenty times. In one of those rethinks of the story, I came up with an entirely new story, a sequel if you will, which has been revised several times.  I realized that it's not enough to just get it done, and move on to the next big project, it's about taking a project you love and polishing it, refining it, making it stronger. Yes, it can be a daunting task. There are some days that I swear I'll never draw another bear again, but then I decide his expression could be tweaked or his posture could be changed, and it's back to the drawing board. Am I completely finished with revisions? No. If it gets picked up at a publishing company, it will likely go through many more revisions. But I'm no longer overwhelmed by such a task. When I look back at all the changes this story has gone through from the initial sketch that sparked the idea to where it is today, I'm quite proud of what it's become. I know any future changes will make me love it even more, and hopefully, someone else will love it, too.

nessa dee